Teeth found in sediments near a river in Eppelsheim, Germany, are believed to have come from a yet-to-be-identified ancient great ape. Due to intriguing qualities of the canine teeth, questions now arise whether or not the find has an impact on the human family tree.
On September 2016, two teeth believed to be those of an ancient primate's were recovered in a prehistoric site known for primate fossils since the 1820s. The teeth, an upper right first molar and an upper left canine, are caramel-colored and are amazingly preserved. Evidence suggests that the teeth are about 9.7 million years old.
While the characteristics of the molar line up with those of other fossil finds in the area, the canine evidently exhibits hominin characteristics, suggesting the possibility of its unidentified owner being a very distant ancestor of modern humans. Specifically, the tooth bears a resemblance to the teeth of extinct human relatives Australopithecus afarensis.
Though the discovery is quite intriguing, researchers are very cautious about their interpretation of the findings. That said, it took researchers quite a while before having their findings published. Lead author of the paper published in ResearchGate on Friday, Oct. 19, states that he and his colleagues were left dumbfounded for a year after the discovery.
According to researchers, the tooth is quite unlike any other find in Europe and in Asia, and to describe it in relation to hominin teeth is intriguing, as the current understanding is that hominins, our extinct human relatives, left Africa about 120,000 years ago. This tooth is significantly older than that.
"That would mean that a group of primates was in Europe before they were in Africa," said Herbert Lutz of the Natural History Museum in Mainz, Germany, lead author of the paper.
Still, there is the possibility of this creature having developed the same tooth characteristics due to experiencing the same evolutionary pressures that the ones in Africa did at the same time. However, researchers are very careful about their interpretations.
"We want to hold back on speculation," said Lutz. "It's a complete mystery where this individual came from, and why nobody's ever found a tooth like this somewhere before."
Where Does The Creature Fit In The Family Tree?
The insinuation that the owner of these teeth is of hominin origins does not convince many experts. In fact, paleoanthropologist from University of Toronto Bence Viola isn't even convinced that this tooth is of hominin or hominoid origin, a branch comprising of hominins, chimpanzees, and other apes.
The closest that experts believe the owner of this controversial tooth could be is a species of extinct primate that inhabited Europe and Asia between 7 and 17 million years ago, something that Lutz and his team also point out.
As of now, the owner of the teeth remains branch-less in the family tree. That said, Lutz and his team are only just beginning their examination of the unusual find. Perhaps in a few more years, the speculations may become theories, and the mystery creature could find itself a place in the family tree.